Monday, December 7, 2009
Ferrara’s expansion into the midscale chocolate market has been quick. The first items I spotted are their Belgian chocolate bars, conceived to compete with Kraft’s Toblerone products. For the holidays this year they have three initial offerings of chocolate oranges in the style of Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
They come in the standard Milk Chocolate Orange and Dark Chocolate Orange as well as the Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch Orange. They’re well priced at $2.50 each, and I’m guessing that deeper discounts will be found with holiday sales. I found my set at Walgreen’s, but I’ve also seen them at CVS.
The package is pretty, though not ornate or really much of a standout. The gold foil is a nice touch and the color-coding of the base of the boxes makes it easy to spot the flavor you might be looking for. They’re quite hefty, clocking in at 6.17 ounces (a Terry’s orange is 6.0).
On the front of the box it says that it’s a natural orange flavor so I was hoping the product was all natural, but I found reading the ingredients that it also contains vanillin (an artificial vanilla flavor).
I’ve always found Terry’s Chocolate Orange to be very sweet and I’m grateful that the sections are small because I’m rarely able to eat more than one or two at a sitting. I was hoping the Ferrara would be a little richer.
I started with the Ferrara Dark Chocolate Orange because I’d already had the plain Milk Chocolate from Ferrara and was very eager to try their dark. The bronzy orange foil has a sticker that exalts me to Burst then Enjoy (compared to Terry’s which is Whack and Unwrap). Inside the foil is a sectioned sphere.
The first difference I noticed is that it’s shiny and smooth. Terry’s have an orange rind texture. The second thing I noticed was different from a Terry’s was how solidly crafted this American orange is. When they say Burst, they don’t give me much indication of how much pressure to apply. So it took three fairly substantial smacks on a flat and firm surface to adequately dismantle the thing. (There’s a very good reason there are no photos of the Milk Chocolate Orange sections in this review as my ability to duplicate my success on the dark one was, well, unsuccessful.)
Each section is nicely molded and has a pretty orange peel and pulp design along with a version of the F crest in the center. The other side is blank.
It smells mostly sweet and with a light touch of orange. I didn’t get a lot of cocoa-vibe even from the broken orange. The snap is good, in fact the whole thing is very nicely tempered. It’s immediately sweet and has a strong orange essence to it. The chocolate is a little chalky and dry at the same time it has a cool and immediate melt. The dark chocolate actually has whole milk powder and milk fat in it, so it’s hardly dark chocolate though not milky enough to call it dairy milk chocolate.
For me it was simply too sweet and without some sort of milk flavors or intense cocoa notes, it just bored me. It’s attractive to look at and fun to share, but I would probably be disappointed if I got this in my stocking year after year.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The Milk Chocolate Orange is probably the classic of the bunch. It’s handsome and just as expertly made as the dark version (though I was not able to expertly disassemble it - see the milk toffee version below for a reasonable facsimile of what yours would probably look like).
The orange scent from this version was sweet and had a slight milky and caramel note to it. I was looking forward to this one because I rather liked the milk chocolate in the Belgian chocolate bar. However, after eating a few slices, it didn’t seem quite the same. It’s not quite as creamy or milky, though sometimes tempering and flavors can create changes. But I also noted on the box that it didn’t say anywhere that it was made from Belgian chocolate, so maybe it’s not the same at all. (I’d consult the wrapper for the Belgian chocolate bar but I ended up using the box as an impromptu knife sheath on Thanksgiving). My guess is that the Belgian stuff was more expensive and those bars were 3.5 ounces ... this is over 6 ounces for only 50 cents more.
There’s a slight grain to it as it melts and I’m really missing the chocolate flavors. Still, I found it much more munchable than the dark version.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The final variety is orange shaped but not orange flavored. The Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch is a milk chocolate studded with toffee bits. Reading through the ingredients it’s clear that they’re really toffee (made with butter and not cheap butterscotch hard candies. It looks pretty much like the milk chocolate one.
It has a slight cereal scent to it in addition to the milky sweet smell. It’s sweet and slightly grainy with a strong milky component. There are little chips of toffee with a good salty and buttery note. The chips, however, are very small, so there’s no additional texture of crunching them, just the little salty texture change. As with the other varieties, it was so very sweet that I found that two slices were more than enough to give me a sore throat and craving for pretzels or plain almonds.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nope, I was wrong. Turns out the Trader Joe’s are made by SweetWorks who makes the Florida Tropic brand line. See more here.
Overall, I think the Ferrara products are nice quality and are certainly easy to find. I appreciate seeing a product like this that’s American-made (so often fresher and cheaper because they don’t have to import). They’re also Kosher. They’re not quite to my taste, but if I can’t get folks at the office to eat these I’m going to try making them into a decadent orange & chocolate pudding.
Coming up soon, the other chocolate oranges from Florida Tropic (photos of the varieties here).
Monday, November 9, 2009
The problem with Mr. Goodbar was that it was never Mr. Greatbar in the first place. When Hershey’s replaced the cocoa butter in it, I completely lost interest. So, I’ve been looking for Mr. Betterbar because I still believed there could be a simple, satisfying combination of milk chocolate and fresh roasted peanuts. When I was at the Target in Harbor City shortly before Halloween I spotted this new bar: Green & Black’s Peanut. Since Green & Black’s is organic and expensive, I thought for sure it was going to be better.
After I got the bar home and photographed it, I read a little closer to see that it wasn’t just a plain milk chocolate with whole (or half) pieces of peanuts. No, this was something quite different but still equally compelling: Milk chocolate with caramelized peanuts and a hint of sea salt - 37% Cocoa Content.
The bar looks smooth and shiny. It also looks darker than most milk chocolate bars, somewhere between a true dark and a milk chocolate. I like how Green & Black’s bars are just a little thicker than the Lindt Excellence or Scharffen Berger. This is great especially when there are inclusions, because it leaves room for them to stack and still be surrounded by chocolate.
The bar smells incredible. It’s deep and smoky with a great authentic peanut scent along with the faint hint of caramelized sugar and milk. The texture is equally great, there’s a silky smooth melt and a sweet dairy flavor along with some dark bitter notes of both chocolate and toasted nuts. The peanut flavors are quite strong, and the nuts themselves are crunchy but there’s also the wonderful surprise of both little buttery toffee bits and a crisp toffee coating on some of the peanuts. The salt is also a nice complement to the flavors, keeping the rather sweet milk chocolate from becoming too sticky and setting off the woodsy notes.
I ate this bar up in less than two days. Then I went looking for another. I still haven’t found one, but when I see it, I’ll buy it. Oddly enough, it’s still not the Mr. Goodbar substitute I was looking for, but I’m going to just be happy with the serendipity that brought it into my life and be grateful that my mistakes are so tasty.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Lindt is an iconic name in the world of chocolate. Its founder Rodolphe Lindt invented the chocolate conching machine in 1879 and set the standard for “eating chocolate”. Today Lindt & Sprungli chocolate is a behemoth company which makes both solid chocolate bars, their consumer truffle line of Lindor products & their iconic chocolate rabbits but also owns the American chocolate company, Ghirardelli.
They have a multitude of lines of chocolate bars, each with different profiles. The Excellence line is often found at drug stores, grocery chains & even at airport shops. It’s a nice size & excellently designed package. The paperboard sleeve holds a 3.5 ounce chocolate bar - it’s thin but nicely scored into easy to break & eat portions. (Other lines include Classic Recipe, Les Grandes, Creation, Petits Desserts - at least 50 bars.)
Before I started writing Candy Blog I was a pretty died hard Lindt fan. Their darker bars were one of the first on the market that I was exposed to that gave the cacao content. I was pretty happy at 70%.
My experience with Lindt milk chocolate is rather limited, so before vacation I picked up this bar: Lindt Excellence Toffee Crunch.
It is rather thin and I have to preface this review with the fact that I prefer my bars that have inclusions to be a little thicker.
It smells sweet & buttery.
The chocolate has a nice snap, even in the heat we were experiencing in Southern California. Inside each piece it was easy to spot the little toffee bits.
The chocolate is smooth and milky and though the texture isn’t quite as fine as I would have wanted, I’m not sure it would matter because of all the toffee bits.
The toffee was firm & gave a good little bite of salty burnt sugar and butter.
The effect was great, it was filling & satisfying without being too cloyingly sweet. Still, for my personal preference I might want bigger toffee pieces and a darker milk chocolate. But I can see that this would have lasting appeal for some folks and if I ate it with something to offset the sweetness it’d probably be gone by now. Also, I was a bit irritated that there were artificial flavors in there for a product at this price point - good toffee is not that hard to create and it doesn’t need artificial caramel flavor.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Sometimes I buy things that I think are insanely expensive. This little box of Recchiuti dragee are just such a purchase. I saw them mentioned on CHOW and filed it away in my head that I should pick it up when I saw it.
The assortment is called Asphalt Jungle Mix. It features a riot of burnt caramel hazelnuts & almonds, cherries two ways and peanut butter pearls.
So when I found them at a little gourmet shop in Los Olivos on the last day of my vacation, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Partly because what I really wanted to try was the Peanut Butter Pearls. But this mix, besides having an awesome name, also featured hazelnuts & almonds ... but then there were cherries. I actually like real cherries and dried cherries are a pretty good approximation of the real thing ... so instead of getting the singular Peanut Butter Pearls I got the Asphalt Jungle.
The price online is $12.00 for 6 ounces. The price at this shop was $14.00. Yes ... insane. But I was also on vacation, and I’m also the Candy Blogger. Into the basket they went.
The assortment is pretty and luckily it was easy to figure out what everything was at a glance.
A beautiful little sphere, about the size of a pea. They’re a dark milk chocolate and rich peanut butter and a teensy cereal crisp center.
The effect is quite addictive. They’re barely sweet and even have little pops of salt sometimes. This is excellent movie food. I will buy these in the separate box.
These were inconsistent, but it really didn’t matter because they were also great. Some tasted like dark chocolate covered roasted hazelnuts, but every once in a while I got one that has a bit of a toasted sugar crunch to it.
I preferred the sugared ones. In the end, though it was very high quality I think I prefer the really chocolatey ones from Charles Chocolates (also made in the Bay Area and also similarly expensive).
Like the hazelnuts, these didn’t always seem to have their burnt sugar coating.
They chocolate was salty and dark and the cocoa on top of that wasn’t too powdery. The crunchy combination of all the flavors was nice and more on the savory side than sweet.
This was one time when I was a bit disappointed in the package. While it was pretty snazzy, I liked the spare design and minimalism, I actually wanted more information. The entire back of the box is blank except for a little footer at the bottom that has the Recchiuti logo & location. This would have been the perfect spot to include this little tidbit of info that’s on the website: dried Michigan tart cherries and candied wild Italian cherries drenched in dark chocolate with a light dusting of cocoa powder.
Both versions were tart, chewy and intensely cherry. They were like the best most cherry-ish Raisinets ever. (You know, if Raisinets were made with good chocolate.) Not quite for me, but excellent.
I liked this opportunity to try four different products in one package ... it saved me a lot of money because now I know that I want to eat the Peanut Butter Pearls for the rest of my life - they straddle that perfect line between decadent sweet and tantalizing savory. Perfect for sharing and though completely munchable and addictive, the 6 ounce package and the size of your bank account will keep your waistline in check.
Finally, I don’t know why I have an issue with paying this much for panned chocolates. I’ve been the to Recchiuti shop quite a few times and bought chocolates there that are $55 a pound ... why should I take issue with a variety mix for only $32 a pound? Is it because each one isn’t handcrafted like a truffle is? I don’t know ... but I hope I can get over it because it is good stuff. It might be because I’ve had excellent stuff at half the price (or even smaller fractions of the price) ... but good is good.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
While on vacation I spotted a new store in Cambria, CA called Sweet Offerings. Unlike many other candy shops in the area, they didn’t make anything of their own (no taffy pulling machine, no fudge). It’s just a well curated shop where they have a little of everything and some things that are pretty hard to find.
I was thrilled to see these little gingham wrapped creams from Rogers’ Chocolates of Victoria, British Columbia. I’d never heard of them before, but as you’ll see, it’s easy to see why someone would go through the trouble of importing them.
They come in a huge variety of flavors, at least 16 in the creams. Each wax paper wrapped piece weighs 45 grams (1.59 ounces) - which is like a candy bar. The price was a bit steep ($3.50 each), but I figured I was on vacation (and the Candy Blogger) so I carefully chose what I thought would be a good representation of their products. I got a Vanilla Cream, Coffee Cream, Rum Cream and then two of their other offerings, a Chocolate Almond Brittle and a Dark Empress Square.
The dark chocolate Vanilla Cream puck has lovely little ripples on top. The chocolate is thick and made the trip rather well (I think this one was actually dropped on the floor while in the shop and was only slightly cracked by it).
The white cream center is interesting. I wasn’t sure what these creams were and the Rogers’ website isn’t much help either. I didn’t know if it would be a fondant, fudge or buttercream.
It’s somewhere between all three. The main ingredient is but the second ingredient in the filling is cream, so it’s a buttery soft center. It’s not at all grainy but not so stiff that it doesn’t sort of “flow”.
The flavor of the vanilla cream is sweet and has a light touch of vanilla ... but mostly the dark chocolate flavor with its smoky semisweet flavor came through.
This is what I’ve always wanted a Cadbury Creme Egg to be.
The dark chocolate of the Coffee Cream is well suited.
The center has a pretty mocha color to it. It’s smooth and has a toasted sugar and coffee flavor. The coffee isn’t that intense but comes out as a sweet and mellow flavor eventually. I enjoyed this one since it wasn’t as sticky sweet as the vanilla.
The Rum Victoria Cream was quite lovely and had a great texture to the cream center, much smoother than the vanilla one.
However, the flavor was odd. It was fake and was more like some sort of plastic aroma than the woodsy molasses notes of rum. The textures were great, but I couldn’t get over the less than true rum-ness of the whole thing. I ate it rather begrudgingly ... but finished it mostly because it was my last one.
It left me disappointed that I didn’t get a fruit flavored one instead (raspberry sounded nice).
The next item, the Dark Empress Square really doesn’t explain what it is at all. The only thing I was pretty sure about with this light brown gingham wrapped piece was that it was dark chocolate (well, their dark chocolate isn’t completely dark, there’s some milk in it).
Upon opening it I was no wiser. The ingredients were vague enough that it could have been any number of things but it looked like either a toffee or a caramel.
So I was a bit tentative when I bit into it.
It was soft ... it was caramel!
The base is a short caramel (not quite grainy but not stringy & chewy). It’s studded with almonds. The flavor is a little on the rum side with good toasted sugar and butter notes and of course the pleasant crunch of crushed almonds. The dark chocolate keeps it all from tasting too sticky sweet.
Chocolate Almond Brittle was at least clear enough for me to know that it was going to be a toffee of some sort studded with nuts.
This was by far the smallest of the pieces I had, though it probably still weighed about the same (there was no weight listed on the wrapper) it was dense and hefty like a chocolate dipped brick.
The brittle center was crispy, a little salty and had a nice buttery flavor to it. The almond pieces were nicely sized, not whole but big chunks that gave a texture variation to it. The dark chocolate went well with the whole thing. The only complaint I had was that the thick chocolate flaked off sometimes when biting it, and when I cut it in half most of it came off completely.
The distinctive and appropriate packaging were what drew me to these, but I appreciate that they are unique - I don’t know if I’ve ever had such good quality and large sized creams before. I’d like to explore the flavor versions a bit more, I have a feeling I’d like their ginger, peppermint and maple ones.
The other butter-based caramel/toffee items were also well done, but not quite as original ... but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate them and a good candy shop should always have a little something for everyone. (And it’s true that a lot of folks just don’t like creams.)
Roger’s Chocolates has quite a few locations through British Columbia including Victoria where their candy factory is located.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
So this review will contain slightly more photos than normal ... so you get all your candy goodness for the day and I get a little bit of a rest (since I’m writing these reviews in advance).
In Europe folks get to enjoy different versions of the Terry’s Chocolate Orange quite regularly. In the United States we get a novelty version about every two years (I had the white chocolate version before). I heard about the Terry’s Chocolate Toffee Crunch Orange at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year and was hoping that I’d see it in stores in advance of Christmas (which is high season for chocolate made into slices of of fruit & reassembled into a sphere).
I picked out a smashed box in my haste, but was happy to see that it didn’t matter to the product inside, which was well protected with a plastic form.
Inside the plastic form, inside the box, is a plastic wrapped sphere that includes directions: WHACK & UNWRAP.
I’ve been around enough to know that’s a bad idea. Either that or I whack to hard and end up with a big handful of crumbles. Instead I just open the package and insert a knife and pull out a few slices.
This particular orange was very nice looking. The slices inside were glossy & had a good snap.
What surprised me was the orange scent. Honestly, I thought the “orange” part on this particular orange was just going to be the shape, not the flavor. For some reason I didn’t think they’d do toffee and orange.
It smells like orange frosting ... very sweet.
The first ingredient on the list is sugar, the second is milk ... so this is a very sweet & milky product.
The texture of the chocolate is smooth, but a little on the fudgy grain side. The milk was a bit overshadowed by the orange flavoring. Within the chocolate were little salty toffee chips. The texture combination is great - the chips were crispy and crunchy. However, the whole thing was just throat searingly sweet. I liked it, but after two slices my throat just ached. Better with some black tea or in combination with something like pretzels or nuts.
Since I picked this up in the off season (though it was very fresh), it was pretty expensive for what’s otherwise rather cheap chocolate. The novelty of the shape is great, and really helps with the portion when sharing, but of course a big 3 or 5 ounce bar is a much better deal. In this case the flavor combination was the unique selling proposition. For gifting chocolate, these are great ... for eating on an every day basis I think I’ll stick to a Scharffen Berger Milk Nibby or for a toffee chip experience I’ll review a new Lindt bar soon.
(Okay, so this review didn’t end up being as short as I thought it was going to be.)
Monday, July 20, 2009
I’ve known about Zingerman’s classic candy bars for quite a few years, but finally found a local source for them a few days ago. I really wanted to see them in person, because while the Zingerman’s website is so fun & quirky with their little illustrations, I’d like more than a picture of a box when sinking $7 for a candy bar (yes, that’s what they are on their website).
I got the What the Fudge? and Ca$hew Cow Zzang! Candy Bars. The box heralds that they’re “taking candy bars back 100 years!” which I’m guessing they think that’s a good thing.
The boxes are smaller than I expected, 4.5” long and 1.25” high/wide. But the label says that the WTF? is 3 ounces. I looked at them out of the package and I thought there was no way it was 3 ounces, that’s more than a Snickers bar! (But sure enough, I used the postal scale at the office and they both came in at about 3 ounces even after I took out my photo-bites.)
So the fact that they’re sizeable almost makes up for the sticker shock - at least at the Larchmont Larder they were $3.95 each.
The What the Fudge? Zzang! Candy Bar looks deceptively plain out of the wrapper. The box says: Milk chocolate fudge, Muscovado caramel, and malted milk cream dipped in dark chocolate.
Biting into it, I didn’t seem that complex. In fact, I didn’t think it tasted like much more than sweet, sweet fudge covered in chocolate.
The top layer of malted milk cream was smooth, but a bit frosting-like. The milky flavors came across distinctly when I pulled the parts of the bar apart, but I didn’t really get much malt. The milk chocolate fudge is sweet and doesn’t have much chocolate punch but has a melty smooth texture with a slight grain. The “caramel” isn’t quite a gooey caramel, it’s more of a grainy buttery layer with some distinct molasses notes of the Muscovado sugar.
Most importantly, because of these extremely sugary innards, the chocolate coating is a very dark, rather bitter bittersweet chocolate.
The package says the serving size is the full 3 ounce bar, which is far too much for me in one sitting. (The box also had the cryptic tally of 260 calories for the full bar, which is pretty much impossible for any candy that contains fat ... and chocolate was the first ingredient ... I’d go for something along the lines of 130 calories per ounce for this bar, bringing the total to 390.)
The Cashew Cow Zzang! Candy Bar, as you can tell, was a little bloomed when I got it home. Happily the texture of the dark chocolate coating did not seem to suffer too much from the slight. The bar consists of Milk chocolate, cashew butter gianduja, cashew brittle & roasted cashews dipped in dark chocolate.
Though this bar is only reputed to be 2.5 ounces, it’s actually larger than the WFT? bar. (Also, when I weighed it after my bite, it still came in at 2.8 ounces, so their manufacturing process is a bit generous.)
It smells dark and toasty.
Instead of the layered order of the WFT?, the Cashew Cow is a muddled combination affair on the inside. The general look of it is a fluffed gianduja with some inclusions of nuts & crisped rice.
The center does have lots of textures going on: shards of brittle, cashews and crisped rice - all with varying degrees of crunch. The nutty background flavor is cashew with some buttery bits and the malty crisp of the puffed rice. And then the salt, there’s a lot of saltiness.
Sometimes I liked it, sometimes I found it a bit chaotic. It definitely wasn’t as sticky sweet as the WTF? bar, but this one seemed a bit too hefty for me as well.
The good thing was that both bars were distinct and unique ... I didn’t feel like saying “this is like a Milky Way” or “that’s like a Butter Brittle Hazelbar.” At $7 a bar, I’d be miffed ... at $4, I felt like it was a fun ride. I still prefer the BonBonBars as far as upscale candy bars go ... but again, these are nothing like those so it’s never going to be a one for one comparison and it might just all be about personal taste.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
While picking up a birthday cake for The Man a few weeks ago at Lark, a neighborhood bakery, I also sampled some locally made artisan nut brittles.
Morning Glory Confections makes a short list of nut brittles in quirky flavor combinations: Chai Tea & Cashew, Cocoa Nib, Coffee Bean & Pecan, Fleur de Sel & Peanut, Indian Curry & Pistachio and New Mexico Chili & Pumpkin Seed.
I’ve tasted all of them, but chose to buy a little package of the Chai Tea & Cashew. It wasn’t cheap, the 2 ounce package that contained four slender planks cost $4.95. But the artisan name was supported by the tantalizing ingredients:
Cashews, sugar, corn syrup, butter, chai spice (it included a list), Darjeeling tea leaves, baking soda, Madagascar vanilla extract, Kosher salt.
The glossy and narrow bars are lumpy with the cashews within and speckled with the tea & spices.
It smells a bit buttery and like warm tea and spices ... a bit like carrot cake, actually. The cashews are toasted to a crunchy light brown and have a darker flavor to them than I would have expected. The salt comes forward first then a little kick of creamy butter and the crisp flakiness of a toffee.
The baking soda keeps the salt note a bit on the mineral side of things, but also keeps the candy from tasting too sickly sweet. The key with Morning Glory brittles, all that I’ve tasted, is that it’s not about the nuts. While the nuts are nice, it’s about the flavors imparted to the brittle.
While I really enjoyed my four pieces, the price is just staggering (oh sure, it’s not so bad when you buy a larger quantity at $32 per pound.) I appreciated that the inner wrap was actually a zip lock to protect my precious bits from evil, evil moisture.
(I would also take this opportunity to recommend Lark’s cakes. They have an impressive carrot cake that is both beautiful and fulfills my husband’s and my particular issues: he doesn’t like raisins and I can’t eat walnuts. So it’s all about the moist carroty cake with warm spices and a light, not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting. We’ve picked up this cake three times in the regular size and one of the itty two-serving size since they opened.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.